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Stage Fright

5 Tips for Transforming Stage Fright into Stage Delight

How to recognize and transform your fears while speaking

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Whether you are speaking in front of a classroom, boardroom, or ballroom, a little nervousness is fine. It’s good to keep your mind alert and your blood pumping.

Too much fear will have you forgetting your best facts and punchlines, or you might overcompensate and come across as preachy and vain. Stage fright can trigger flight (forgetting) or fight (overbearing or self-righteous) behaviors, so it is good to recognize when you are demonstrating both ends of the spectrum if you want to be effective.

Before I give you tips for transforming your fear, remember that there is no substitute for practicing your presentation.

  • Practice until you know what you are going to say without having to think about it.
  • Videotape and watch your practice sessions so you can adjust your delivery. Yes, I know it is painful to watch yourself. Watch the recording at least three times to objectively assess your performance.
  • Let someone who is experienced at speaking watch you or your recording and TAKE THEIR FEEDBACK to heart. Get help from someone who knows what they are talking about, who has been professionally trained. And then honor what this person tells you even if you don’t like what you hear.

Here are two tips for counteracting your negative self-talk with positive nervousness before you go on stage.

  1. Reframe your shame (feeling embarrassed for who you are or feeling you are not good enough). It is okay to worry that you won’t get your point across as you would like. It is a waste of energy to worry about how much they will appreciate you. Remember, most people want what you have to share or they wouldn’t be there. You are speaking because you have something of value to offer. Focus your fear onto choosing the right words and emotional expressions instead of worrying about how they will judge you.

  2. Free your body and focus your mind. Find a routine that helps you breathe and release the tension in your body before you go on stage. Relax your body, feel your conviction in your gut, and feel the passion and love for what you are going to say through your heart. Then choose one word that you will refer to as you speak to transform your fear into something more powerful, such as “passion,” “love,” or “fun.” Know your keyword ahead of time so you can think and feel this word anytime your feel yourself getting off center.

Now, here are three tips to keep you engaging and likable while you are speaking:

  1. Share your passion and what you are afraid won’t happen. Share the story that prompts you to feel so strongly and why you want so much for others to know what happened to you or what you have learned. Share what you fear will happen if people don’t act to change the current situation. Speak from your personal desires and the pain in your heart, not from what you think other people should do. Shoulds come across as judgments, as if you assume people don’t know what they should do already. They will learn from your story and the lessons you learned. Your courage will inspire them to be like you. If you preach to them, you push them away. And don’t fixate on the person frowning at you or sleeping. Find a smiling face to relate to instead.
  2. Use silence to help you remember. Periodically pausing after you say something important will emphasize your points and give people time to think about them. The silence you hold will always feel longer to you than it does for the audience. Silence also allows your memories to catch up with your words. Vary your pacing for effect and usefulness.
  3. Don’t try to be someone else. They came to see you not Tony Robbins. They came to hear a real person who talks like a friend. Don’t think you have to be the expert with sage advice they must take. Your story will lead them to the insights they need.

Most people have no idea how frightened you are when you speak. Unless you are dripping with sweat or shaking so badly you can’t hold a glass of water, they will not see the nervousness you feel. In fact, if they feel you are a little scared, they might root for your success even more than if you were perfectly confident. Get up there and give it your best shot. If you forget to share something add it in when you can. Most likely, they will get the point without all the details.

You don’t need you to be perfect! They need you to be a real person they relate to and would like to know. Real people feel fear and then get up there because they have something to share that matters.

More from Marcia Reynolds Psy.D.
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